Round two of the Preliminary stage is upon us, with all four teams still in with a sniff (though some noses are whiffier than others).
Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory have played out a scoreless draw, punctuated with scintillating chances – 5 to 1 in Adelaide’s favour – that never hatched. A non-result, I hear you say? – far from it. In a playoff equation two things become paramount: keeping a clean sheet and nabbing an away goal. Melbourne have managed to scrape the former, but their inability to nail the latter has exacerbated an already precarious position. They go to Telstra Dome on Sunday for a finals match without a win in four games. Adelaide, a perplexing team with a reputation for slow, grinding-out-a-result football have managed to throw the switch to attack mode, ably aided by (another!) Brazillian signing Diego Walsh, who has managed to make a nuisance of himself in three sucessive matches despite not scoring a goal.
On the whole Adelaide are in front by a nose or more here, having better recent form and the chance to drive home a lethal away goal – but keep in mind, Telstra Dome will be packed to capacity with ardent MV fans who believe anything is possible, wether their players believe it is another thing altogether.
The other side of this finals competition takes place today at a booked-out EAS, as Sydney and the Jets fight for the chance to challenge the top two. Unlike the Adelaide-Victory match there will be no second chances.
Last round’s match-up was a stark contrast to the Adelaide-Victory equation, with Newcastle managing to bung in an away goal but only after Sydney had scored off two headers courtesy of the rampant Alex Brosque and Mark Milligan. This leaves Sydney slightly ahead of Newy (but kicking ourselves at the though of what could have been…) having neutralised the away goal with two of their own. As usual, the side in sky-blue goes in with a raft of injury worries, with leftback Alvin Ceccoli and centreback Nikolai Topor-Stanley (’Hyphen’ to the fans) in doubt and defensive mid Terry McFlynn out for the season. If neither is fit, expect Milligan to return to centreback and new signing Jonas Salley to replace McFlynn in the ‘policeman’ role.
Newcastle, by contrast are likely to make few changes – the most likely starting with striker Rodriguez over Vaughn Coveney and possibly replacing Okon with Durante in the back four.
Newcastle are in a difficult position, needing to beat Sydney without conceding; if they score first it is well and truly game on but an early Sydney goal could well be game over. The crucial battles will be on Sydney’s side of the line between playmakers Carle and Rodriquez and the Talay/Milligan(/Salley?) pairing. Sydney will need to shut these two down while still keeping regular service to lone striker Brosque and their attacking midfielders, who have managed to slip two goals by Newcastle twice in the last month or so.